Friday, July 29, 2011

The One – Part 4 of 11

© 2011 by Henry Melton

Home in his room, with books spread around as if he were doing homework, he got onto his computer.  He pulled down his buddy list.  A familiar name was online.
Billy boy, how are things back in Wilmington?
Is that you, Sam?  I thought you’d dried up an blowed away.
Yeah, new school, but it same ol, same ol.
Uh, oh.  Girl trouble?
More or less.  Too many of the wrong kind.
Too many hotties or too many dogs?
You’d never believe me.
Sam, have I ever not believed you.  Even with the dream girl thing.  You can tell me.
Well, I’ve got three medium hot ‘buddies’, one of which is looking to snag a daddy.
Steer clear, son.  Steer clear.
I am.  Just smiling and keeping my shirt buttoned, at least after the first time.
Tell.  Tell.
“Oh let me wash that paint stain.  Now sit beside me on the couch.”
I got the message when her superstructure was missing a harness and bailed.
Whew.  That’s the one looking to get a big belly?
The others?
Flirty buddies.  I can handle them.
Anyone else.
Yeah.  Spooky goth.  Sees auras.  Claims we’re destined mates.
Uh, oh.  But I guess she’s no worse that that girl you see in your dreams.
Totally different.  But there’s something about this one.  She’s everywhere I look.
I dunno.  I can’t get past the black goth stuff.  
I’ve seen some pretty sexy goths.
I’ll take another look.  I just wish I could find the right girl.
She won’t be the right one without “red hair, pixie cut and deep brown eyes”
Give my dream girl a rest.
Why? You compare every girl to her.  Look around.  Maybe she’s out there looking for you.
Dinner was lasagna.  Not the TV dinner kind.
“Sam, how is school?”
“Okay, Mom.”
“And your grades?”
“They’re coming up.  I took a hit, making this move, but I should be okay soon enough.”
His father’s eyes were tracking the ball on the screen in the other room, but he was doing his duty and eating at the table with them.  “Going for valedictorian?”
“Dad!  You know that’s not possible.  Be happy with B’s.”
“I’ll be happy when you put more effort into it.  I know you can do better.  You’re just coasting along.  You’ll never get scholarships this way.”
“I’ll manage.”
He sighed.  It was an old argument.
Chess club meets Wednesday 4pm.  1222 Blackburn Hall.  I told them you would come.
Sam was horrified as he read the text.  What gave her the right?  And how did she even know about Chess club.  Was it on his records some how?
He tapped away angrily.
None of your business what clubs I join.  Stay out of my hair.
There was a quick reply.
School spirit.  Cross town games coming up.  You know you’ll win.
He turned off his phone before he was seen.  No sense in getting a teacher down on him as well.
But how did she know about chess?
Steph!  Steph knows her.  I bet that’s it.
He plopped down at Steph’s table at lunch.
“Howdy ladies.”  Candi and Clare were there as well.  Steph was one of the main actresses in the play.  His trio were extras on the stage--townspeople with no real lines.  But their play was coming up and that’s all they talked about.
“Sam!  How are you?  You just missed Jason.  He and Candi are planning a double-date to the movies on Friday with David and me.  You could come too.”
He shook his head.  “Still trying to catch up on the homework.  Dad wants straight A’s this time.  Never gonna happen.  By the way, did you talk to Agatha recently?”
She looked puzzled.  “No.  Since she dropped out of Drama last year, we don’t do much.”
“So, you didn’t say anything about chess?”
“Oh, do you play chess?  That looks too hard for me.”
“Yeah, I played some back at Wilmington.  Just trying to track down some things.”
Okay.  How did you know about chess?
He sat in a corner of the library, fuming.  Her reply came a couple of minutes later.
Are you going to the meeting?
No.  Answer my question.
I’ll tell you everything, after the meeting.  Just attend.  You don’t have to play.
He grumbled.  It was almost time.  He had sworn off chess.  At least Chess club.  He didn’t want to go back.
But he had to figure out what Agatha was up to.  And he had to know how she knew about his chess skills.
He walked over to Blackburn Hall and located the room.
“Hello, are you interested in chess?”
There were three guys there.
“I’ve played a little.  I’m new to the school.”
“Great, we need another player.  Have a seat.”
There were two boards--a standard sized board with plastic pieces, and a fold-up pocket board with tiny pieces that plugged into holes in the board.  He hadn’t seen one of those in a while--what with the digital players so common.
He couldn’t help himself.  He took black on the little pocket board.  The opponent,  Greg, was a decent player and no one talked much.  There was a little discussion of their rankings, but Sam disclaimed any knowledge of his own ranking number.
“Check.”  He said absently as the game progressed.  He slapped the little clock that tracked how many minutes he spent versus his opponent.
Greg grumbled.  “That’s probably mate.”
It wasn’t.  Sam reluctantly pointed his finger at a rook.
“Oh.  Sorry.”  Greg made the move, but a minute later it was over.
“You’re good.”
“Did you want to join the tournaments?”
He shook his head.  “I’m too new here.  I’d better wait a bit.”
“Are you that guy Agatha mentioned?”
“Oh, what did she say?”
He shrugged.  “Just that she’d seen you play and were pretty good.”
“Really?  I haven’t played since I moved here.”
“Don’t worry about it.  Agatha is always getting information from her ‘visions’.  Maybe that’s where she saw you play.”
They all chuckled at that.  Apparently, she was a known source of odd stories.
When they broke up, Sam wandered down the hallway. His phone vibrated.
She was waiting at a table, her painted eyes watching for him.
He pulled up a chair.
“Okay.  I went to the meeting.”
She nodded.  “You won.”  It wasn’t a question.
“Well, yes, but that’s not the point.  How did you know I played chess?”
She sighed, and looked down at the table.  “I suppose you don’t believe in clairvoyance?”
“I don’t believe high school girls in black clothes that talk of auras are statistically likely to have useful clairvoyant skills.”
She chuckled and smiled up at him.  “You sound just like...someone else I know.”
You look so much better with a smile.  Her brown eyes glistened.  Billy had been right.  He should take another look at her.
“Okay, I’ve had this discussion many times.  Forget the word ‘clairvoyance’.  I am intuitive.  I come up with testable information without obvious research.”
He nodded.  At least she knew words he could understand.  ‘Testable’ meant she’d predict things that could actually be checked--proved true or false.  Not just claim knowledge about past lives or secret thoughts that no one could test.
“Okay.  So you just guessed I knew chess.”
“Exactly.  I knew that you played chess.  I know you are good.  Some number in the two thousands keeps popping up in my head but I can’t make sense of it.  Is that a ranking?”
“And you didn’t go online and look up my Elo chess rankings?”
She nodded.  “I wouldn’t know how to do that.  I can understand how you might not believe me, but that’s what’s happening.”
“You told Greg, at the chess club that you’d seen me play.”
She smiled.  “I’ve seen you doing many things.  Some in the past, some in the future.”
“Like what?”
She looked off to the side, and blinked, as if recalling something.
“I saw you without a shirt, talking to Julie.  I saw you playing chess with a large group of people--lots of games going on at the same time.  I saw you crying in a Jeep, on the side of a mountain.  I saw....other things.  Lots of other things.”
Sam was quiet.  The rumor mill could have relayed the shirt incident.  She could have made up the chess tournament.  But nobody knew I went up on Baldy that night.  Nobody.
“Why me?”
She shrugged, and it occurred to him that there were tears in her eyes. Why? 
“We are linked.  I said so from the first.  We are mates.”  She straightened in her chair, and cleared her throat.  “I’m more likely to pick up emotional events.  Although, personally, I hardly think playing chess is all that emotional--but that’s just me.”
“You said future events?”
She nodded.  “I’ve seen you and me.  Together.”
He didn’t ask for details.  She could be lying, or projecting, but it was so close to his own recurring dream that his thoughts veered away from thinking about that too closely.
“Three years.  You said something about three years ago.”
She nodded.  “I’ve had dreams all my life.  Little things mainly.  I’d even seen you.  But they were all vague.”  
She looked behind him again.  “It was the auras that changed.  I put a few pieces together and realized you would be coming.”  She looked down at the table again.  “It’s hard to explain.  Especially when we don’t share the same concepts.”
He nodded.  “Like auras.  You mean like the Kirilian photographs?”
“No.  I know about those, but those are just some kind of electrostatic things.  The auras I see are different.”
He was frustrated.  He’d read about auras.  But none of the descriptions made any kind of physical sense.  If you couldn’t photograph auras, then they weren’t light.  And if they weren’t light, how could people see them.
She was smiling at him, now.  
“Okay, do you have the magic piece of information that would help me understand it?”
“Nope.  I just see them.  I can make testable predictions based on what I see.  And I can’t make anyone else see them, or understand what I’m seeing.”  She shrugged.  “I don’t try to make people believe me.  But I can’t just lie and hide what I’m experiencing either.  I’m content with people thinking I’m crazy.  What does it matter in the long run anyway?”
She reached to her side and picked up her bag.  “I’ve got to go.”
“No.  Wait.  I have more questions.”
“My ride is here.  I have to go.  We’ll talk more later.”
He got up with her and walked with her to the entrance.  He wanted to get another close look at her eyes, but she just kept on going, walking out the entrance sidewalk right as a car drove up to meet her.  He watched as she got in the front seat with her mother, black haired like her.  As they drove off, he thought he saw her lean her head against the woman.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The One – Part 3 of 11

© 2011 by Henry Melton

“Doing laundry?”
“Hi, Dad.  Just a shirt. I got some paint splatters on it at school.”
He chuckled, setting down his laptop case.  “I thought that went out with grade school.”
Sam sighed.  “I was just helping some girls paint stage flats for their drama class.”
“Oh, girls, eh?  Any of them pretty?”
He nodded.  “Sure.  All of them.  In their own way.”
His father was a little overweight from sitting at a desk day in and day out.  He sighed.  “I remember when I could go play with the pretty girls.”
“Don’t tell your mother I said that.”
Charlie Whittacker set down his books next to the girl in the long black dress during the pep rally.  “That’s the one you’re thinking about?” he asked, staring across the basketball court, watching Sam escort three girls to sit on the second row to the left.  Charlie and Agatha talked in low voices and never made eye contact with each other. People could tell, just by the way he was dressed, that his mind was already in some ivy league school, and he looked a little out of place sitting next to a goth girl.
“Yes, if he doesn’t get himself in trouble.”
“Why do you think it’s him?”
“His aura, I told you.”
“Anything else?  Something a real person could understand.”
“It’s the right year.  He’s new, and there’s no one else in school that’s a candidate.  Besides, he’s the guy in my vision.”
“The one where you die.”
“Then I should think you’d want to keep your distance from him.”
“It’s fate.  There’s nothing I can do about it.”
“Maybe I should talk to him.”
“Don’t.  He’s resistant enough.  Anything you say would just push him farther away.”
“Have it your way.”  He grabbed his books and moved on down the row.
Sam saw Agatha across the way at the pep rally.  He always saw her.  At first he thought she was following him around, stalking him, but now he wasn’t so sure.  She was just extremely visible, dressed the way she was.
Suzy yelled in his ear, “Did you play baseball at your old school?”
“Yes.  All the sports.”
Candi added, “He was a regular sports hero.”
It had been a week since the shirt incident, and although he finished the painting job with the girls and even hung around as the play started rehearsals, he was careful to flirt with them all openly and evenly.  Candi had lost interest in that game.
Still, having someone to hang around with was better than being alone.
He tapped Suzy on the shoulder.  “Who’s that guy?”  He pointed at the tall red-haired guy moving down the aisle.
“Charlie Whittacker.  Math geek.  He was in Drama class last year, but he’s all tied up with science fairs and junk now.  On the scholarship track.”
He nodded.  One by one, he was learning his way around the school’s social circle.  In his old school, the senior class numbered less than fifty.  Here it was more like 500.  But as always, there were the leaders, the club presidents, the ones in the race for class standing.  There was no way he was likely to get in that league, not with his late start, but it was good to know who they were.  And if they knew who he was, he could make some connections.  More than those his cousins passed his way.
Not that he didn’t enjoy all the fuss and frantic busy-ness of the Drama group, but it wasn’t really his play, and he’d never been an actor.  Mr. Dyson had asked if he were interested in reading for one of the lesser parts, just as a standby, but he declined.  There were people who needed that opportunity, and he didn’t.
The cheerleaders came out and the band blasted into the fight song. All pretense of speaking were gone.  It was ‘yell loud or no one could hear you’.  He glanced to his left and saw Clare yelling too.  He tried to listen, but he couldn’t hear her contribution.  She even yelled quietly.  
He’d learned not to discount Clare’s intentions.  Suzy had been dead on, right from the beginning.  Clare was interested in snagging a man as well.  The one time he’d spent more than ten minutes alone with her, she’d talked in a low sultry voice that could easily get a guy thinking bedroom thoughts.
“Did Candi getcha outta yer clothes?”
He’d been surprised that her intentions had been that plain to the others.
“Just the shirt, for about two minutes.  I had to leave.”
“I’d’ve tripped you and held you down ’til you quit strugglin’.  I al’ays knew she’s too timid.  But, still, she’ll be after that cousin or yer’s, Jason, next.  Bet money she’ll have a man the old way by June.”
He’d chuckled.  “Probably.”
Clare had given him a good long stare.  “Why’re you still be’in a loner?  Ya been here two week, what?”
It was a reasonable question.  
“I won’t throw you outta my bed if ya get lonely.  No chains an no babies.  I’m ona Pill.”
Between cheers, Clare looked his way. She had looked like a quiet polite girl the first time he’d seen her.  She gave him a smile and a twitch of her eyebrow that had a whole world of different meaning now.
But the question she’d asked that day still stood.
With all these girls throwing themselves at him, why was he playing the eligible bachelor?
Across the way, Agatha was still watching him.
You said Julie.  Her name is Candi.
He watched as Agatha looked around for her cell and finally dug it out of her tote bag.
She looked across the noisy gulf at him and tapped.
Sorry.  She’s been Julie for all my life.  Don’t tell me she trapped you?
He chuckled.
Nope.  But she did offer some ‘special services’.
That ought to give her something to think about. Washing clothes is a service, right?
Agatha stared intently across the way.
I can see from here she’s still on the prowl.  Be careful.
He looked over at Candi, and she was watching the crowd intently.
She noticed his attention and yelled, “Why don’t you introduce me to that cousin of yours?”  Jason was out on the court, a big letter on his chest, holding two cheerleaders as part of their cheer.
He yelled back.  “I’ll let him know you’re interested.”
Suzy rolled her eyes.
He caught up with Jason later.
“Sam.  What’s up?”
“One of my lady friends, Candi Smith, is interested in meeting you.”
“One of...  How many do you have?”
“I lose track.”
“Right.  Who is this one?”
“You may know her as Julie.”
He frowned, thinking.  “Maybe.  She doesn’t want you anymore?”
Sam looked cautious.  “I have been told that she’s looking to snag a mate the old fashioned way.”
Jason smiled, and then frowned.  “Ah.  Does that mean...?”
“Don’t get her pregnant, unless you’re ready to settle down, like right now.”
“Okay.  I understand.”
“Still, she’s a good looking girl.  If you’re in the neighborhood of the play rehearsals, just ask around.  I think she’s one of your sister’s friends too, come to think of it.”
“I’ll think about it.”

Monday, July 25, 2011

The One – Part 2 of 11

© 2011 by Henry Melton

With Candi’s help, since she was the biggest, they hauled a few of the set pieces out of storage.  It was plain bits and pieces of the flats had been reused for years.  He could see lettering in French in places on the back, hidden side of some of them.  A previous crew had just turned their hand-me-downs over and painted fresh buildings on the back side.  
“I wonder how many layers down it goes,” he said, chipping at the paint with his fingernails.
Suzy, the little one, and Clare, the quiet one, began arranging the set flats according to the diagram.
“No,” he shook his head.  “We need to reverse the blacksmith shop.  Candi, would you help?”
Soon they had the old sets laid out in roughly the same order as the diagram.  It was like a jigsaw puzzle, only with nails and wing nuts.
“Now all we have to do is put facing on that one, and paint them.” 
The girls all clustered around the diagram and they agreed.
Candi got them to show up after school to help with the painting.  Sam agreed to help.  
“That’s great.  We don’t usually get any of the cute guys to help,” Suzy confided.
“Why not?”
“Sports and stuff. They’re all taken, and the geeks like to play with the lighting and the sound system.  Plus,”  she whispered, “we can sometimes get a little rough.”
“Oh?”  He grinned.  The idea that Suzy could get rough with anyone was a little humorous.
She nodded.  “Man eaters, all of us.  Except maybe Clare.  She just licks them to death.”
Clare was blushing like mad and bashed Suzy on the head with a three ring binder.
“Hey, cut that out.”
But they all behaved themselves when the bells rang and they spread out the drop cloths to catch paint splatters.  Candi eyed him up and down when he picked up a bucket.  “Do you have any grubs to change into.  You don’t want paint all over you.”
“I’ll be careful.”
“It’s not you who will cause the spills.”
He nodded, but started covering wide areas with sky blue.  The girls retired around the corner and came back with their hair bundled up in scarves, and wearing old, splattered coveralls.  He sighed.  He didn’t have any old grubs.  But maybe what he was wearing would soon be assigned to that job.
They had the flats soon covered in broad areas, but it’d take another day to get the detail lines in place. 
When Suzy asked if Clare could take her home, he offered.  “I’ve got a Jeep.  I’ll drop you off.”
Candi raised her hand.  “I could use a ride as well.”
“No problem.”
Clare pouted.
Suzy shook her head, “It’s your own fault for having a car.”
They laughed.
Suzy pointed to a bench.  “Stay right there while we change, unless you want to come help?”
He smiled.  “Oh, I’m okay.”  
She unzipped her coverall down,  showing a hint of lace and sauntered out, hips swaying.
Candi shook her head.  “Don’t mind her.  She loves to tease.”
Clare patted him on the shoulder and shook her head sadly at the doom that awaited him.  She picked up her books and left.
Suzy rode next to him, with her hand on his leg as far as her house.  She winked.  “You’re welcome to stay longer.”
“I’m still here,” reminded Candi from right behind her.
Candi moved up to the front seat.   He said, “You should have asked for the front seat.  It’s tight quarters back there.”
“Suzy wouldn’t have put up with it.  She needed to get her hands on you.”
“So she’s the man eater she claims to be?”
She shrugged.  “I think it’s all an act, but one of these days, she’ll get some guy to take her up on her offer.”
He nodded.  “I’ve heard some girls are just ready to get pregnant.”
She chuckled.  “Don’t discount a girl’s hormones.
“But look here.”  She plucked at his sleeve.  “I told you.  Paint splatters all over this.”
He looked down.  “I hadn’t noticed.  They’re tiny.”
“But they need to be treated quickly.  Here, this is my house.  Come on in. I’ve got something to deal with this.”
He followed her in.  She dropped her books on the table.  “Take that off and I’ll run it though a quick wash cycle.  The paint is water based.  We might get it out.”
Looking around cautiously, he didn’t see signs of anyone else about, but taking off clothes in a girls house sounded risky.  He waited, with his fingers on his buttons.
She shook her head.  “Don’t be a baby.”  She began unbuttoning them herself.  Soon he watched her stalk off towards the washing machine.
The house looked normal enough.  He didn’t feel like sitting down.
She came back, bright eyed and carrying a coke.  “Here.  I hand-scrubbed it a bit and I think the paint will come out.  Have a seat.”  She sat down on the couch and patted the space beside her.
“I probably should head on home.”
“But without your shirt?  It won’t take too long.”  She reached out and took his hand and he sat.
She leaned toward him.  “So, you’re Steph’s cousin?  What made you change towns?”
He sipped the coke she handed him.  “Um.  Parents.  Dad took a new job and so we moved.  Couldn’t have happened at a worse time, either.”
“Oh,  why?”
“I was varsity.  Baseball, football, track, all that.  It was a small school, so I was in demand, you know?  In this place, it’s so big, I’m lost in the whirl of too many people with better seniority than I’ll have time to get.”
“Lost in the maze, huh?  I get it.”  She took his hand.  “I’ve been pretty lost in this school too.”
As he looked in her eyes.  He couldn’t help notice that in all the shuffling to get his shirt in the washing machine, somehow, she’d managed to lose her bra.  Her  breasts were swaying under her blouse, and he could see the nipples making their indentations.
He nodded, and leaned back.  “Yes.  I guess it’s easy for anyone to get lost at a big school.”  He looked over at the stack of books on the table.  
“What kind of classes are you taking?” He snatched up a textbook.  “Calculus, huh?”
“Just the usual old boring stuff.”  She squeezed his free hand.
He saw her name on the cover.  Julie was scratched out and Candi was written in in bold letters with a heart over the ‘i’.
“You change your name or something?”
“Yes!  I was so tired of being a ‘Julie’.  Everybody knew me, knew what to expect out of me.  It was the start of a new year, and I wanted to be a new me.  Other girls were changing their names.  Why not me?”
“Like Agatha.”
“Yes.  Like her.  And ‘Angela’.  I was surprised she didn’t buy herself a pair of wings.  She had angel stickers all over everywhere.”
He looked at her.  “Why Candi?”
Her eyes glittered and she licked her lips.  “Because I could be very sweet--to the right guy.”
He nodded.  “You probably would be.”
Pretending to be oblivious to what she was doing, he picked up another book.  “Oh!  History.  That reminds me.  I have an essay due.  I was having so much fun with the painting and all, I forgot about it.  I really need to go take care of that.”
He dropped her hand and stood up.  “I guess I’d better take the shirt now, even wet as it is, and go deal with it.  Sorry.  I shouldn’t have taken your time with it.”
She protested, but he was firm.  “It’s my fault for not being prepared for the painting like you guys were.”
With a downright sullen look, she stopped the wash cycle and extracted his shirt.  He wrung it out over the sink and put it on.
“Really sorry, but I’ve got to go.”
He almost ran back to the Jeep. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

The One – Part 1 of 11

© 2011 by Henry Melton

The girl was dramatic, he’d say that much for her.  Sam Delany took in her ankle-length black dress, black shoes, very black hair, and dark eye makeup.  Why she was staring at him, he had no clue.
“Who is that?” he asked.
Jason looked over his shoulder.  “Teri Perry.  And she hates her real name.  Goes by Agatha when she can get away with it.  Full on goth, I guess.”
“What’s the deal?”
“My sister claimed she tried a seance at a party once.  Really into spirits and demons and stuff.”
Sam rubbed the back of his neck.  “She’s creeping me out.  She’s been staring this way for an hour or more.”
Jason shrugged.  “You’re the new guy.  Someone who isn’t on to her tricks yet.”
He gave up on watching the baseball game and went back inside to get his books out of his locker.  Switching to a new school midway through his senior year was not his idea of a great time.  At least his cousins were here.  That was something, right?
He was half-way to the parking lot, his mind tallying up which books he’d need to take home, when he turned a corner and there she was, head to toe black and barely as tall as his chin.
“Ah.  Hello?”
She seemed to be looking past him, but she said, “You’re new here, right?”
“Yes.  From Wilmington.”
“I’ve been waiting for you for three years.”
She blinked, looking a little vague.  “Not what I was expecting.”
“What is going on?  I saw you watching me.”
“Your aura was surprising.  I wasn’t sure until I got close up.  But you’re the one, all right.”
“The one what?”
“My mate.”
He took a step sideways.  “Okay.  I was told about your tricks.  Just lets not get crazy.”
She smiled tolerantly.  “You can fight it, but you’ll come around.  It’s destiny.”
He nodded, humoring her.  “Okay.  Destiny.  Right.  Later then.”  He waved and headed out as fast as he could without actually running.
She didn’t follow.  He was grateful for small favors. 
He waved at Jason in the stands on his way out, but he wasn’t really in the mood to share the latest revelation.
He got in his Jeep and headed home.
The next morning at school, there was a page on pink paper, ripped out of a small spiral notepad, folded in half and taped to his locker:
Teri Jo Perry A.K.A. “Agatha”
5’2” - 102 lbs.  Birthday 1/12
It went on for two paragraphs, detailing her phone number, her favorite colors, her favorite foods, etc.  She had an IQ of 132, she had her appendix removed when she was 14, and she was on the birth control pill.  There was a list of favorite musicians and favorite authors.  She didn’t go to movies and was an only child.
It was more information that he knew about anyone, let alone a girl.  It was much more information than he wanted to know.
And it struck him that it was hazardous for it to be out there for someone to discover. Didn’t she know about identity theft? He folded the paper carefully and stuck it in his wallet.  He wouldn’t want random people knowing all his medical history and favorite foods and stuff.  He was surprised she didn’t just go ahead and include all her accounts and passwords while she was at it.  Really!
Did this dingbat really believe her auras and destiny and stuff?
He chuckled.  Am I being stalked? Flattering, but he could do without.
He needed to find Steph.
When lunchtime rolled around he searched for his other cousin and finally found her.
“Hey, Steph, can I borrow you for a minute.”
She introduced him around to her girl friends at the table.  There were a few speculative eyes watching him as he pulled her off to talk in private.
“What do you know about this Agatha person?”
She chuckled.  “Sam, don’t tell me you’re interested in her?”
“No.  It’s not that.  I think she’s following me around.”
“Maybe.  I don’t know.  I only talked to her once, in the hallway.  She said something about auras.”
She waved her hand.  “Don’t mind that.  She got on that aura thing, oh--years back.  She does a fortune telling schtick when we’re at parties.”
He frowned.  “Is she...could she be dangerous?”
Steph shook her head.  “Naw.  It’s all an act.  Other than the goth stuff, she’s pretty ordinary.  She’ll even wipe the eyeliner off when it’s time for the two-act play contest.  She played a cute little Betsy Jones last year.  Nobody could believe it was her.”
He nodded.  A trickster and and actress.  Good to know.  “Okay, just ignore me, and don’t spread any rumors.  I’m just trying to find out who is who around here.”
She looked a little puzzled.  She nodded back towards her table.  “I can probably fix you up with a date for this weekend, if you just say the word.”
“Maybe next week.  I’ve still got stuff to do at home.”
There was another pink note taped to his locker.  He snatched it off with a growl.
Julie Smith has an erratic spike in her aura.  Danger.  Don’t get her pregnant.
What in the world?  Who is Julie Smith.
And he was seriously angry that she would think he would get anyone pregnant.  Who did she think he was?
He went looking for his dark nemesis.  He stalked through the hallway and out to the parking lot.  He was halfway across the athletic fields when he saw a figure in a black dress.  He changed course.
She saw him coming, her face serene.
He clutched the paper.  “Don’t leave notes on my locker!”
She blinked, then nodded.  “Ah.  Okay.  How do I get messages to you?” 
He was almost speechless.  “Why do you need to?  We don’t know each other.  We’re not friends.  And don’t say a word about auras and destiny!”
She nodded again.  “I understand your concern.  How about you give me your number.  I can send texts.  Would that be private enough?”
He shook his head.  “Why don’t you just leave me alone?”
She spread her hands. “But I can’t leave you in danger!  That doesn’t make sense.  You’ll trust me eventually, but until then, why not texts?” It was again as if she wasn’t looking directly at him.  He was tempted to brush his hair or something.
She was so frustratingly dense.  Off in another world.
“Okay.  Texts only.  No locker messages, no meetings in the hallway.  Got that?”
He gave her the number and she immediately entered it in her cell.
“Good.  We’re making progress.”  She smiled.
He didn’t know whether he’d made a big mistake or not.  But he couldn’t have her leaving possibly scandalous messages on his locker for anyone to intercept.  Without another word he stalked off.
This late in the year, it was impossible to join any of the sports teams or start to learn an instrument or anything like that.  There was chess club, and he was good at that, but it was reluctant to open that can of worms again.
He was spending far too much time with his cousins, as much as he liked them.  
And it was too easy to spot his stalker wherever he went.  Like sitting in the entrance to the library eating an apple and pretending to read a book.  Her eyes tracked his every move.
“Jason!  There you are.”
“Sam.  What’s up?”  He had his hands full with one end of a large banner.  The other end was being tacked up on the wall.  “Beat the Wildcats!” it said.  Jason was one of the beefy guys who got to throw the cheerleaders into the air at games.
“Not much.  I thought I’d have trouble getting up to speed in my classes, but I was wrong there.  I’m at loose ends.”
He nodded.  “I wish I could help, but I’m booked solid.  Go talk to Steph.  She was pestering me about some project.  Let her pester you.”
Steph practically rubbed her hands with glee.  “Yes, I can use you.  Come with me.”
She led him into the stage area, where three girls were hammering away at some boxes.  “I brought help”, she called out.  They all set down their tools and came to meet him.
“This is Sam, my cousin.  Girls.  He’s all yours.”  
She wandered away.  
“What’s up?”
The large dark-haired one took his hand.  “We’re building stage sets for the play.”
The little one, a bit chubby, but cute, said, “We’ve got the plans, but they’re not going together very well.”
The one with the light brown hair said nothing, but smiled.
He took a look at the plans.
“Do we have a budget for the materials?”
“Not much.  We’re supposed to re-work the stuff from last year.”
He nodded.  “Show me.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Event Announcement: Saturday July 23

This Saturday, I'll be at The Book Spot in Round Rock (across from RR High School on 620) from noon to 2 talking about my latest novel Star Time and the series which it starts.
If you're in the Austin/Round Rock area, please come by and say hello and tell me you read these stories.  I'd love to get some feedback.  I'll also have books to sell.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Milemarkers - Part 2 of 2

© 2011 by Henry Melton

The trail turned uphill again, the "M" blazed in the bark of the tree leading her on.  Julie cupped water from the mountain stream and drank before picking up her walking stick and moving on.  She could feel her hair dragging across the back of her neck.  It had been too long since she had last cropped it back.
An eagle shrieked across the mountain valley, and a sudden movement caught her eye.  Off in the distance, far up the pass where her trail led, she could see someone move quickly across the ridge.  Who is that?
Her heartbeat picked up.  The trail she was following was a lonely one.  What were the chances she would meet someone up here, so far from the main road?
She leaned into her walking stick.  The stranger had been moving fast–could she catch up?
A "T" marked ancient gnarled juniper, pointing the way past the pass, but she paused and looked back up where the trees thinned out near the peak.  There was definitely a trail there, well worn among the rocks, circling the peak like a dusty halo.  She couldn't tell where it went, but it appeared flat on this side.
She grit her teeth, and stepped off her trail.
Stepping from rock to rock, occasionally feeling the mush of high altitude tundra, she approached the spot where she had seen the other hiker.
Footprints, man-sized in the dust.  Lots of them.  It looked like a hundred men, all wearing the same size and style of shoe had passed this way.
She looked off to the west, in the direction the toes pointed.  Something was definitely wrong here.  Where are the trail markers?  Her own route just a few hundred feet down the hill called to her.  Could she dare follow this rut?  Was it that important to see another person?
A noise snapped her around.  Back the other way, just coming around a bend in the trail, another man approached.
He looks the same.  At least the jacket was the same color.  Maybe he had just looped the peak.
"Hello!"  she called.
He paused in his steps, just now noticing her in his path.  "Hi."  He closed the distance, a smile on his face.
Julie couldn't help smiling back.  Other than the beard, she thought he looked good.
"My name is Dan."  He held out a hand and she shook it.
"Julie.  I didn't expect to see anyone out here."
He nodded.  "Me neither.  I've never seen another soul on these ridges."
She pointed down hill.  "My trail goes that way.  Where are your markers?  I can't see any."
He looked puzzled.  "Markers?  I just follow the footprints."
Julie knew that was wrong.  "How long have you been here?"
"How long?"  The glaze in Dan's eyes told her the answer before he said, "I dunno.  Forever I guess."
The dusty trail, with endlessly repeating footprints unnerved her.  "Come with me.  My trail is marked."
He followed, trusting her, even as he had a hard time stepping outside the boundaries of the dusty path.  He stumbled on the rocks, and she had to help him maintain his balance on the uneven terrain at first.
She spotted the "T" with relief, afraid that it might have vanished.  He noticed it too and pointed it out, to her relief.  He wasn't stupid–just dulled by being caught in an endless loop.
They passed "W" and "Th" before he pointed out the Jeep.
"Hey, look at this."  He ran over and examined the vehicle caught among a cluster of pines.
Dan cautiously wedged his way though the door, and after a labored crank, and a cloud of black smoke sputtering out the tail pipe, the engine finally started.
"Stand back."
Dan shifted the gears and tried to move it.  The rear tires smoked on the rocks.  He shifted into four wheel drive, and with a squeal of rubber, he edged cautiously out of its trap.
"Get in.  I can make out an old trail here.  It heads down.  I bet it joins the highway before too long."  He tossed his backpack into the back seat.  "I've always wanted a Jeep."
Julie was amazed at the find.  It would be nice to get back to civilization, and it would be nice to ride along with Dan for a while.
She reached for the door latch and sat down on the cushioned chair.  Dan closed his door and revved the engine.
Julie shouted, "Wait!"
She was shaking her head.  "I can't do this."
"What do you mean?"
"Something is wrong here."  With a turn, she was out on her feet again.  Her arms were shaking.  Less than a memory, it was a conviction that driving off would cost her soul.  "I feel ... twisted in there."
Dan shook his head.  "There is nothing wrong with a car.  Millions of people drive them every day.  Do you want to drive?  I'll let you drive."
"It's not that.  I can't go that way.  I don't know why, but I can't."  She pointed over to the footpath.  "That's the way I must go."
Dan sat there, his foot on the pedal, hands on the wheel.  The Jeep was his dream car.  The road ahead was clear.
Julie stepped back, and turned toward her trail.  A feeling of wrongness lanced through his chest.  A whisper–not this time–echoed in his head.
"Hey, wait up."  He turned off the key, pulled the hand brake, and grabbed his backpack.  "We'd better stick together."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Milemarkers - Part 1 of 2

© 2011 by Henry Melton

This story has gotten so many puzzled responses as I sent it to various magazines.  So just clear your mind and read.

Black arrows on the yellow warning signs shook Dan from his driver's daze.  He downshifted the Jeep with practiced ease, bringing him into the zone, edging the yellow stripe through the curve.  A white mile marker flickered by, the text a blur.
He had been driving five years now, and it seemed as if he had been doing it his whole life.  The Jeep seemed perfect for him–fast enough on the highway, but when the mountains called, there was always four-wheel-low and high clearance to get him through.
He glanced at the girl beside him–still not used to having Julie riding shotgun.  She returned his grin, her black close-cropped hair whipping in the breeze.
There!  Another mile marker.  He frowned.  It was hard to read them.  Someone had put a lot of information on the small sign, no more than six inches wide.  Did that say Monday?  He shrugged.
Dan was ready for the next one.  Friday - April 7 1989.  He nodded.  He was making good time.
There was a sweet scent in the air, and the trees were decked out in white blossoms, but that passed quickly.  He started to make a comment to Julie, but she was asleep, her long black hair tied back in a bun.
Wednesday - October 16 1996.  He was getting better at reading them, now that he knew the format.  The trees were brilliant in fall foliage, as the road passed through a protected valley.  He rolled down the window on the Chevy pickup, to catch a whiff of the crisp cool air.  In the rear view mirror, he could see a low slung Corvette advancing rapidly.  The two-lane blacktop had far too many curves for easy passing, so he accelerated a little.  By the time Saturday - February 2 2002 flickered off the side of the road, the guy behind him pushed his luck and passed on a blind curve.  Luck was with him.
"Idiot," Julie muttered.  He saw from the way she shook her blond hair that Mr. Sports Car was now in her Little Black Book of Permanent Grudges.  He had made up that name as a joke, but he wouldn't be surprised if she hadn't gone out and bought one.
When Dan crested the summit pass, and their Volvo passed the sign declaring Tuesday - June 28 2011, he absently reached for the gear shift that was no longer there.  Old habits die slowly he thought, but the Volvo was smart enough to shift gears anyway.
"What is it?"  Juliana asked.  
He gave her a shake of the head.  "Nothing.  Just thinking of old times."
She made no comment, sitting upright, her pinstriped suit and careful makeup making an impressive picture.  These days he didn't know whether her silence was the same as disapproval or not.
He turned his mind back to the road.  Out of the valley now, the road divided and he could inform the Suprim's cruise control to pay attention to the guide strip.  Three higher powered cruisers whipped past in the fast lane, tired of riding behind him on the narrow road.
He didn't mind.  The speed limit was fine with him.
Up ahead, he saw another mile marker, and watched until it came into focus–Monday - September 8 2025.
Still making plenty good time.
Juliana was staring straight ahead.  He would have called it a glare, but he knew it was just her natural expression.  When the gray started in her hair, she had gone with a streaked look, and it gave her the appearance of an hawk on the lookout for an unwary rabbit.
"Can't you go any faster?  That was the Jacobsons who passed us."
He put more pressure on the accelerator.  "I don't think we need to get there any sooner."  He felt her response rather than heard it.  She would never be happy unless they were doing the passing.
A Lexus Grande swept past so fast he hadn't realized it was approaching.  Juliana was silent again.
He gave their Lexus more power, but there was nothing he could do.  They were already well over the speed limit–and still the slowest car on the road.
Saturday - January 29 2033.
Dan gritted his teeth, and tried to ignore the ache in his back.  We are still going too fast.  I don't know why we have to get there in a hurry.
Another mile marker flickered by, and for the first time in a while, it blurred past too fast to read.  He let off some speed.
"What are you doing?"
"Slowing down."
"You idiot, we can't do that."
He turned to her, noting that the hunch in her back was getting worse.  With her hair gone gray and wiry, she looked like a crone.
There was a honk from behind, and a blink of headlights.  Even with two lanes, he was becoming an obstruction to traffic.
Sunday - May 13 2040.  The cars in the fast lane were whipping by bunching up the ones behind, making it impossible for them to pass him.
I'll have to speed back up.  But he didn't want to.  Where am I going anyway?  Why am I driving?  He blinked his eyes shut for a long second–anything to get a moment's peace to think.
Another sign appeared, off to the left in the center lane.  It was a crossover.  Authorized vehicles only.  
A flicker of motion in the rearview mirror.  He took a breath, gritted his teeth, held the horn down, and with a shriek of rubber on the road, jumped across the fast lane and skidded sideways onto the gravel crossover lane.
"Daniel!  What are you doing?"
"Going back!"  He struggled to turn the massive vehicle onto the opposite lane.  With a sigh of relief that the lane was empty, he pulled out and gained speed.
"Stop it this instant, Mister!  This is illegal, and we are going the wrong way!"
Dan ignored her, as he ignored the chorus of honks from the vehicles he had barely missed.  At least those were receding into the distance.
"Juliana, bear with me.  This is something I have to do."
She was glowing with rage.  She slapped at his arm.  "Stop this.  Stop at once!"
"No."  Dan kept his eyes on the road.  He put the accelerator all the way to the floor.  There was no traffic, and with two lanes he could flatten the curves.
Opposite the divider, there was an endless stream of cars.  They flickered as day and night passed several times a second.
How fast am I going?  The speedometer was stuck, trying to read a negative speed and failing.  He looked for mile markers.  Strangely, there were none on this side of the highway.  He could see them pass on the other side, but he couldn't make them out in the rear view mirror.
Oh well, I know the road.
"Now you've done it!"  Juliana declared.  He saw she was back in her pinstripes.  It was good to see her sitting straight again.  The pain in his back had vanished as well.
"What do you mean?"
She looked behind them.  "The cops are after you."
He saw that she was right.  Far back in the distance, a familiar flickering light was following them.
Whether it was the illegal crossover, or their speed, or even just going back the wrong way on the highway, Dan knew that if they caught him, he would be in serious trouble.
Up ahead, he could see the merge signs as the road narrowed to a two-lane highway again.  He could still make good speed on the twisty lanes, but he would have to be careful.  He let off the accelerator and whipped by the speed warnings and curve signs.
The first curve almost took him as the car shifted from the Suprim to the Volvo and he wasn't prepared for the weight change.
"Let me out!"
"I can't.  The cops are still coming."
"More the reason not to be here in this car with you when they catch you."
The blinking lights were gaining on him fast.  He couldn't maintain speed on these curves.  He looked at Julie carefully, taking in the length of her black hair and the style of her clothes.
It was the expression on her face that gave him the clue where they were on the road.  It was concerned, angry but not hateful.
"Hang on."  She gripped the safety handle.
He remembered bridge on the way up and sure enough over the next rise, he saw it.  He braked heavily and rumbled off the shoulder into the grass.  The pickup bounced over the rough terrain, but he jerked it around out of sight of the road.
Seconds later, he could see the reflection of the cop's lights on the trees as it passed with a whoosh, and the eerie shriek of its siren.
The door slammed shut.  Julie was out.
"Julie!  Come back here."
"Not on your life, Dan.  You've gone crazy.  I'm not going to go down with you."
There was a tightness in his chest, along with the racing of his heartbeat.
"Julie, you have to stay with me."  It was a simple statement of fact, an emotional truth.
"No."  He could hear the pain in her words.  "You have to go, now!  They will be back for you.  You will have to get off the road."
He still sat paralyzed.
Quietly, she repeated, "Dan, you have to go now."  And then she was gone, clambering up the rocks and out of sight.
What did I do?  Why is she leaving?  The memories up the road were rapidly becoming indistinct. 
Dan couldn't take it in, but his hand moved on the gear shift and he backed the pickup around and back on the road.  He glanced at the traffic moving on the far lane, but the determination to go the other way remained.  He pulled into the vacant lane.  
The police car had gone ahead of him, but Julie was right, it would turn back for him soon.  He had to backtrack on the highway as fast as he could before there was the glimmer of cop-lights coming his way.
He felt the gear shift morph back to the old Jeep's knob in his hand.  The wind whipped at his face, smearing and drying the tears.
"You have to get off the road."  Julie was right, and he had a vague memory of where to go.
The two-lane highway passed an old dirt road, and he almost missed it.  He smoked to a stop, in the middle of the lane, catching the sight of the passing travelers gawking at him.  He backed up the two hundred yards and turned through a gap in the traffic.
The rutted lane turned quickly uphill.  He paused long enough to shift to four-speed-low and kept on as the road became little more than a trail.
The siren echoed across the mountain.  He killed the engine and watched from an overlook as three police cars passed by.  The first one hadn't turned.  It just called for reinforcements.
He sat on the rock, taking a moment to breathe and to think.
They would not give up the chase.  No one was allowed to cross over.  He would have to give up the road altogether.  He ached inside–feeling a loss, although he couldn't put a name to it.  Fear was driving him now.
He walked back to the Jeep and scavenged an old backpack that he tossed into the back seat the day he had started driving.  He turned the steering wheel to the side and with a great reluctance, he released the hand brake and slipped the gearshift into neutral.
It gained speed, rolling back and off the trail, crashing noisily into the trees.  Satisfied it was out of sight, he slipped on the backpack and set off across the ridge line, leaving even the trail behind.